Good science fiction premises are hard to come by. It’s just math, really. Ever since Mary Shelley kicked it all off with Frankenstein, countless authors and screenwriters have mapped the terrain of speculative fiction—examining issues, projecting trends and otherwise scouring the collective superconsciousness for story hooks.
So when you find a new science fiction movie with a relatively fresh concept, it becomes a kind of commodity in and of itself. Such is the case with the apocalyptic romance PERFECT SENSE, new to DVD and various digital platforms this week. Starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green, the film was a minor hit on the festival circuit but only opened on a handful of screens in the U.S. last fall.
The hook: A mysterious epidemic is sweeping the planet, gradually causing the population to lose sensory perception. Taste is the first to go, then smell. As a side effect, each wave of the epidemic is preceded by an intense emotional hysteria—grief, or joy, or rage.
Green plays a Glaswegian epidemiologist (almost poetic, that) tracking the phenomenon as she unexpectedly falls in love with her neighbor, a raffish gourmet chef played by McGregor. The film narrows its focus to their love story, letting the end-of-the-world details play out teasingly in the corners.
Scottish director David Mackenzie gets good mileage out of his small budget, deploying scenes of local chaos to suggest worldwide devastation as the planet slowly freaks out. This frees up the film to work on the level of parable, as screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson muses upon what is truly abiding in this vale of tears.
I appreciate this kind of imaginative moxie in my sci-fi movies, and Perfect Sense is careful to keep the nature of the dilemma ambiguous. The epidemic might be a virus, or bio-terrorism, or the wrath of God. No one knows, and in the end it doesn’t matter. The cataclysmic details are designed to resonate emotionally with the characters, and their ideas and feelings at the end of the world.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that McGregor and Green—who share several delightful sex scenes—are two of the more impressive physical specimens on the planet. They’re also both strong, charismatic performers. McGregor seems endlessly versatile in his roles, and Green brings a damaged vulnerability to the standard chilly scientist role.
Perfect Sense shares some cinematic DNA with Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 dystopian thriller Children of Men, which deals with a near-future infertility epidemic. Mackenzie’s movie doesn’t have the visceral power of that great film, but it traffics in similar circles of thinky science fiction.
Formats: DVD, Blu-ray and various digital platforms.
Extras: DVD and Blu-ray feature a single meager behind-the-scenes “featurette,” plus the film’s theatrical trailer.
Also New This Week:
– For you comedy nerds, 95 MILES TO GO (DVD) chronicles a week on the road with veteran comic Ray Romano. It follows a recent string of top-shelf stand-up comedy specials on DVD and digital, including Hannibal Buress (ANIMAL FURNACE), Donald Glover (WEIRDO), Bobcat Goldthwait (YOU DON’T LOOK THE SAME EITHER), Ralphie May (TOO BIG TO IGNORE) and Patton Oswalt (FINEST HOUR).
– ELVIS COSTELLO & THE SPINNING SONGBOOK (PPV/VOD), the new hour-long concert special, features Costello’s latest in-concert gimmick – a giant game-show-style wheel that fans spin to choose the night’s set list. Out now on pay-per-view, with video-on-demand coming Thursday, May 24.
– If my four-year-old daughter is any indication, the little ones will dig THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (DVD/Blu-ray), the Japanese animated film based on the popular British kids book, The Borrowers.
Plus: Director Ed Burns’ romance NEWLYWEDS, Reese Witherspoon in the spy-themed rom-com THIS MEANS WAR, and the Tuskegee Airmen war drama RED TAILS.